The Letter

By on Apr 13, 2010 in Fiction

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Fragment of a letter

It showed up on a Saturday in mid-December, stuck between two pieces of junk mail. I would have missed it if not for the wet, folded corner that stuck out like a thumb. The envelope was made of cheap, wrinkled paper, and there was no return address, but the postmark was from Boston.

I sat down at the kitchen table and stared at it as though it were a weapon. This was around noon. As usual, the rest of the day spread before me like an ocean. After turning it over in my hands at least a dozen times I tore into it to find a single piece of lined loose-leaf paper on which she had written in blue ink.

I read it four times.

Each time it seemed different.

The handwriting filled the one page exactly, printed in all lowercase letters except at the bottom, where it was signed in script. There was a phone number and an address.

I covered these with my hand so as not to memorize the information.

Ralph always said I was stubborn. One of those people who can’t forgive, never mind forget. Then he died.

The letter was a surprise. My sister had written it, mailed it, and was waiting for a reply. But she would never follow up. I know her that well. It was an apology, the sort of apology one makes around the holidays, when everyone feels spirited and lonely all at once.

I put it back into its envelope and stashed it out of sight. I couldn’t say where. It was a hasty move; that house was full of junk. Maybe I put it in the basement. Or the attic. It’s possible it went straight into the recycling, where it was bound to be thrown out. Obviously, I made a point of not remembering.

We were twins. Best friends, once. All my childhood memories include a vision of her. She was blonde and smart, the quickest thinker I’d ever known. Sometimes she answered questions that hadn’t even been asked. We held hands and whispered a lot, although there was no reason for this; our secrets made no sense to anyone but us.

Then she started to pull away. It happened slowly, in my memory, but still it seemed abrupt when she moved out of our parents’ house and was on her own. We were nineteen.

I tried to stay in touch. My calls were never returned. Once I even drove out to her apartment, just to see her face, but she told me we needed distance, that I should make my own stab at life. Then she moved, and everything I wrote came back like a boomerang, with no forwarding address.

Our parents died within days of each other just a couple of years later. My sister came to the funeral wearing heels and dramatic black makeup around her eyes. Mother would have been so upset to see her like that.

I tried to make her stay. She had plans. She was busy. She had a life excluding me. We can’t be kids forever, Betty, she said. I felt desperately needy, but I nodded.

I didn’t see or hear from her for many years.

Anger builds in someone like me, Ralph used to say. This is true. I hold onto my anger like a shield. Anger can be easier than sorrow.

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Jennifer Bossert has a B.A. in philosophy from Purchase College, State University of New York. She graduated in 2000 and has worked in the book publishing industry ever since. Jennifer is the author of Penny and Other Stories, a book of short stories published in 2009, and she is currently at work on her next book. "The Letter" is her first short story accepted for online publication. Jennifer is married and lives in New York.